Lagos is one of the Algarve’s top destination cities. Boasting a historic oldtown, modern marina, cultural attractions, with some incredible beaches and scenery it really combines much of what the Algarve is famous for. In fact, it’s probably got so much to do that a day trip to Lagos really doesn’t do it justice. It’s a perfect place to spend a long weekend, or longer holiday. With a wide variety of bars, pubs, and restaurants it’s a lively place that doesn’t suffer the same seasonality that some of the smaller resorts and towns in the Algarve suffer from.
How to Get to Lagos?
Lagos is easily accessible and by road it’s around 1 hour from Faro airport. It also has a well-located train station and central bus station. Its train station is on the Regional Algarve line travelling east-west across the Algarve, with connections to Lisbon in Tunes or Albufeira. Coaches are again available from most major towns in the Algarve and Lisbon too!
What to See and Do in Lagos
With its traditional centre and historic core, Lagos has plenty of culture and attractions to explore. It’s more than easy to lose yourself amongst its winding cobbled streets and architectural sights. However, for a full guide on the best things to see and do in Lagos, continue reading!
The modern marina is perhaps the best place to start. If you are arriving from Lagos’s trainstation you’ll have to cross the bridge here too! From the bridge across the marina its easy to follow Lagos’s palm tree and calçada lined promenade to the coast and it really sets the scene as an introduction to Lagos. After a short walk taking in the sounds and the sights of the marina, head back over the bridge to discover some of the local Lagos that really makes it tick.
A short walk down Avenue dos Descobrimentos will lead you to Mercado Municipal de Lagos. This large building built on the waterfront in 1924 holds the municipal market and is a key part of local life here. It’s mostly known for its daily fish market and if it’s your fist time visiting a market like this can be a tourist attraction in itself. If you’re interested in this, then its essential you arrive early, the market usually wraps up by around midday with most of the sellers having sold their stock! You’ll find these types of market buildings all over the Algarve and it’s our favourite way of buying local fish and produce!
Lagos Historic Centre and Streets – Praca de Gil Eanes and Praça Luís de Camões
Leaving the market and following Rua da Porta de Portugal will lead you into the historic centre of Lagos. This is the more pristine and commercial area, the pedestrianised calçada streets are lined with an array of bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops. During the summer season it offers a buzzing hectic atmosphere with alfresco diners mixing with street performers and buskers. This atmosphere is perhaps greatest on two busy plazas Praça Gil Eanes and Praça Luís de Camões, but the side streets leading to them are equally busy. Praça Luís de Camões is also the location of the famous ‘green tiled building’, you’ll see this building on much of the media and photos of Lagos.
However, there are secrets to be discovered on its less pristine and commercial streets so don’t be afraid to explore in any direction from these lively squares! Praç a Gil Eanes is also where you’ll find the city’s municipal tourist office – the Posto de Turismo de Lagos. If you’re looking for more activities and information, then it might be worth stopping here for a friendly chat! They’re relatively impartial and don’t push anyone to the commercial tours unless that’s what you ask for!
Perhaps it’s time to delve into Lagos’s important history and no better place to start than on Praça do Infante D. Henrique. If you hadn’t quite realised yet, Lagos had a large role in the Portuguese Age of Discoveries and the period that would follow. This is a large public square dedicated to Prince Henry the Navigator, the central figure of Portuguese expansion during the Age of Discovery. In this square you’ll find a statue of him, Lagos’s main church, and the Slave Market Museum.
Former Slave Market and Museum – Mercado de Escravos – Núcleo Museológico Rota da Escravatura
In the early era of the slave trade, Portuguese ships would head to West Africa where they would enslave, trade for, or simply purchase slaves. Those slaves would originally be brought back to Europe to be sold. Although in later centuries the ships of the era would depart the African coast sailing to the New World directly. In 1444, this location would become the first slave market in Europe, when a Portuguese expedition returned from West Africa with 235 slaves. Although the building today is dated to around 1691. Its dark past was confirmed in 2009, during renovations a large number of human skeletons would be discovered alongside other urban waste from the time period. Testing confirmed their west African origins and it’s believed they passed away due to illness caused by their living conditions while waiting for the market.
The museum attempts to reconcile this past with education and acknowledgement of the Portugal’s role in the slave trade. It’s a great and worthwhile museum for anyone looking to learn more. It’s open from 10.00-12.30, and 14.00-17.30. Entrance costs €3 for adults but half price for students, youths, and over 65s.
Igreja de Santa Maria de Lagos
Watching over the main square is the impressive Igreja de Santa Maria de Lagos. It dates to around 1498 although like many historic buildings in the Algarve has gone through much expansion, rebuilding, and restoration. It was severely damaged in the 1755 earthquake, although not quite as badly as the nearby Igreja de Santa Maria da Graça. That church was completely destroyed during the earthquake and Igreja de Santa Maria de Lagos would become the parish church of Lagos.
Today, you’re faced with a large Neoclassical building comprising of a single nave and three side chapels. Compared to many churches in the region, it’s white washed front facade is understated. With its grand front facing the Praça do Infante, it is heavily symmetrical, featuring overlapping central elements, the entrance door, the large bay window, and an image niche. The symmetry is reinforced by its two matching bell towers. The interior is enriched with altarpieces from the second half of the 18th century. Behind the church, you’ll find the walls to the Castelo dos Governadores.
Castelo de Lagos Castelo dos Governadores
Up until this point you might have noticed the absence of walls, fortresses, and castles. Much of the more modern city has hidden them so far, but amongst the palm trees of Jardim da Constituição you’ll find the grand entrance and twin towers of The Castle of the Governors, also known as Castelo de Lagos. Originally, the entire medieval town was encircled by walls known as the Cerca Medieval. These walls – up to 7m thick – can still be visited on the western side of Lagos. Alongside the river, only small sections remain, and the grand portal or entrance known as Porta de São Gonçalo. Walking through the archway will lead you along a small back street behind the castle. You’ll also find here the district hospital, equally historic located in former residences of the governors.
Forte da Ponta da Bandeira – Fort of Lagos
Continuing along the castle walls to the coast will lead you to Forte da Ponta da Bandeira. The fort dates to around 1640 and was built in an effort to secure the Algarve from coastal raiders and pirates. Although it seems like it was built quite close to the city’s castle, this was deliberate, and its main function was to modernise the defence of the mouth of the river and cities quayside. Its location meant it could both protect access to the banks of the river and the south-eastern and eastern sides of the city walls. Anyone attempting to take the gates of the city would have to take the fortress first and vice versa. Don’t let its relatively squat walls fool you, at the time it was considered one of most advanced military structures in the Algarve and built with artillery fire in mind. Interestingly, the four sentry posts are now believed to be more modern additions to the original fortress.
Today it is still considered the best-preserved 17th century fort in the Algarve. Inside you’ll find an exhibition on the Age of Discoveries and a small art exhibition of sculptures on its roof top. It’s open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00-12:30 and 14:00-17:30 and costs €2 to enter, but combined tickets with the city’s other museums are available.
Ponta da Piedade and the Grottos
One of the standout natural attractions of Lagos is Ponta da Piedade and its historic lighthouse Farol da Ponta da Piedade Lagos. It’s a small natural headland that’s about 3km from Lagos city centre. On approaching the lighthouse from the road it’s difficult to see what all the fuss is about. However, a short walk, and several steps down reveal its secrets.
Beautifully clear turquoise water laps the typical golden cliffs of the Algarve. Rising out of the water are limestone pillars in the typical golden Algarve colours. You’ll find an array of arches, caves, and sheer cliffs. Keen eyed visitors will also be able to spot birds circling and nesting on the many pillars. It’s a stunning feature and well worth a visit to take it all in. A steep staircase of 180 steps takes you to the waters edge, while several winding paths will take you east or west to see more scenery along the coast.
It’s possible to walk from Lagos and will take around half an hour, alternatively a taxi or uber will cost around €5-7 for a one way trip. During the summer season the tourist train also stops at the Ponte de Piedade approximately every hour.
Boat and Kayak Trips to Ponte de Piedade and the Grottos
The question we always get asked! Do you need to visit the grottos by boat or kayak? In our opinion you really don’t need to. Visiting by boat is a great experience to go further, through the caves, and experience many other caves that you can’t see by taking the steep steps. But this is not an essential part of the experience. Also, at the high season you will find so many boats doing the same thing that this actually makes the experience worse. You also can not leave the boat, so don’t expect to be allowed to swim around or through the caves! Kayaking is a slower paced way of visiting the caves and grottos, but once again suffers from the same fate. Large groups of kayaks and lots of boats visiting the same spots. These trips can be an expensive novelty – for an hour-long boat tour is around €20 for an adult and €10 for a child. Kayak tours taking around 2 hours cost around €30-40. All these trips can be booked in Lagos city centre or at the marina where they depart from.
The Best Beaches in Lagos
One of the best things about Lagos is its easy access to a variety of beaches.
Praia dos Estudantes
Being the closest beach to Lagos this is one of the most popular. It’s famous for its caves, carved tunnels, and the so-called Roman Bridge – Ponte Romana de Lagos. The beach is relatively small and split into two halves by long cliffs. The cliffs give this small beach a sheltered and secluded feel. One important thing to consider is that this beach is not life guarded and doesn’t have the usual beach facilities – toilets, showers, and changing rooms. Due to its small size, tight access and lack of facilities the beach never gets too busy.
The first section of the beach is the wider area, but if you head through the caves on the righthand side you’ll find an even smaller beach and the famous Roman Bridge. It’s not actually Roman and is named after its style – similarly to the Roman Bridge in Tavira! Isolated on the cliff you might be wondering what the bridge is for, it originally linked to a small fortress on the cliff that has long since collapsed. You can still see one of its walls, and the bricks that made it on the southern side of the cliff. At low tide Praia dos Estudantes links to Praia do Pinhão through the small caves at the right-hand side of the beach. From the main access stairs of Praia dos Estudantes you can also head left to Praia da Batata.
Praia do Pinhão
One step further, and even more secluded is Praia do Pinhão. It’s just slightly further away from Students beach and with even less facilities – there’s no restaurant or bars nearby and it’s slightly less popular. You can walk or paddle to it and for the adventurous its very rewarding. It offers calm waters, and those scenic cliffs Lagos is famous for.
Praia de Dona Ana
Although located further out of town than both Praia dos Estudantes and Praia do Pinhão, this is actually the most popular and busiest of Lagos’s beaches. On its cliff tops are a wide array of hotels and apartments which funnels many, many more people to this beach. For us, this is the busiest and most packed of Lagos’s beaches. For some people a packed beach is an essential part of their holiday, for others they want a bit more space and relaxation. If you fall into this last category then it might be best to avoid Praia de Dona Ana.
At 300m the beach is the biggest in the Lagos area, with cliffs that extend out into the water at either end it forms a protective bay. Making it relatively calm and great for swimming. The rock formations also make it a great and protected area to try a little snorkeling to! It’s also life guarded and you’ll find sunbed and parasol rental available. This is Lagos’s most resort like beach!
It is possible to walk to Praia de Dona Ana from Lagos, but it will take around 20 minutes. It is also served by the regular bus line (Linha 2 – the blue line), and during the high season the tourist train. With limited parking above the beach it’s not really recommended to drive to the beach as it gets full quickly.
Praia do Camilo
Praia do Camilo is Lagos’s most internet famous beach. Whether it’s the most instagrammed location in the Algarve, or being voted TripAdvisor’s No.1 activity in Lagos. Praia do Camilo attracts a lot of attention. A dramatic walk down 200 wooden steps will lead you to a seriously impressive beach. The car park is small and quickly gets overcrowded so it’s best to get here early. At the top of the wooden steps there is a small restaurant.
Meia Praia Beach – Praia de São Roque
If being stuck between sheer cliffs sounds claustrophobic to you, you’re not the only one. Lagos’s beaches are all relatively small and require access though steep stairs and cliffs. Fortunately, it has one very different beach on the opposite side of its river – Meia Praia. Meia Praia stretches for 5km from Lagos all the way to Ria de Alvor. It’s a stunning stretch of sand backed by sand dunes instead of cliffs. Different sections of the beach are life guarded, and you’ll find the full beach facilities. Towards it’s more empty stretches it’s also popular for windsurfing and kitesurfing. In fact, multiple operators offer water sports hire and lessons for all abilities! In Lagos, you really are spoiled for choice as to which beach to choose.
The Best Day Trips from Lagos?
Lagos is perfectly positioned in the West Algarve to offer a great base to explore the wider region. Your choice of day trips and excursions will only depend on how you want to enhance your Algarve experience.
Sagres – Sagres defines the western Algarve. It’s here the scenery is at its most dramatic, you’ll find sheer cliffs, wind swept beaches, and lots of surfing and wind sports. The town of Sagres is overlooked by the impressive Fortaleza de Sagres, and further west is the Farol do Cabo de São Vincente with a lighthouse that marks the far south western tip of Portugal. Between these two points you’ll find some impressive and deserted beaches, as well as popular spots for surfing. This is the Algarve at its wildest and most dramatic. It’s also easy to fit these activities into a day trip from Lagos.
Monchique – If dramatic, and extreme don’t quite fit your day trip needs then perhaps it’s a good idea to take a step into the slower paced and traditional Algarve. Monchique is a delightful town positioned at the heart of a small mountain range called the Serra de Monchique. You’ll find a focus on relaxation, hiking, and a slower paced life. It’s charming streets and small squares are a lovely place to try some of the traditional Portuguese ‘mountain food’ and the local speciality Medronho. A fearsome spirit made with local fruit.
Silves – Silves is the historic capital of the Algarve and retains much of its history and culture. It has one of the best examples of a 13th century castle and its town retains many of its historic features from its long past. Balancing the history and culture are the usual features of Portuguese life. A lively market, arts and crafts, café culture and booming restaurant scene resulting in some of the best food you can find in the Algarve too. If you’re looking for some cultural and historical sites Silves is well worth making the trip to!
So, how Touristy is Lagos?
Despite what many people will say, Lagos has clearly been affected by mass tourism. The outskirts of the city are now lined with modern apartment blocks and hotels, and it can be hard to walk around town without having any number of tourist activities shoved in your face. Multiple stands and touts will try to get you to book tours, boat trips, and try to convince you to head to their bar or restaurant. Once the sun goes down, many of the bars, pubs and clubs open up. It’s growing reputation for nightlife is both good and bad. That said, it’s still a thriving city with a good mix of locals, seasonal residents, and tourists that stays quite busy year round.
Somewhere to Stay in Lagos?
Lagos is a large enough city that it caters for every budget, from backpackers and surf hostels to 5 star resorts.
For a luxury stays then one of the best option’s is Tivoli Lagos. The city centre hotel has a fantastic location, and during the summer offers a free shuttle to its private beach club. If you’re looking for a little exclusivity and luxury it’s a great choice. For a more family friendly options with a focus on activities and great pools take a look at the 3 star IberLagos. For the full list of hotels check this list here.
Should You Visit Lagos?
Lagos is a fantastic destination in the West Algarve. Blending so much of what the Algarve is great for, beaches, history, food, culture, it really has it all! With some of the region’s best beaches within easy reach it’s perfect for any summer trip. Year round, its culture, streets and shopping attract a good mixture of people which keep it lively. What do you think of Lagos? Let us know in the comments below!
Affiliate disclosure. Some of the links included in this post are affiliate links. What this means is we get a tiny percentage of the booking fee if you do click the links and book something. This costs no extra for you and helps support the site.
Sign up for our latest content! One email each week, with just our latest articles and no spam!